Monday night the Hastings Council invited citizens to a workshop at the Opera House to air their views on a range of issues related to development of the urban areas of the Hastings District, with special emphasis on the Hastings CBD. The meeting was promoted on the radio, in Hawke’s Bay Today, and on the Council website.

Excluding Hastings Councillors and staff, about 20 people attended. Of these twenty, seven were “regulars” who attend most such events, including at least two interlopers from Napier.

Granted, some stakeholders were invited to workshops during the day to give their views. Nevertheless, a turnout of twenty from the general public is discouraging appalling.

I was looking for an explanation for this sorry outcome, so I called twenty Hastings residents at random to find out why they stayed home. Here are their reasons.

  1. Nobody listens to the radio, reads HB Today, or visits the HDC website.
  2. It was too cold out and I wanted to stay close to my woodburner.
  3. I understood the subject to be Hastings CBD, not important places like Havelock North or Napier.
  4. My heart can’t stand the excitement.
  5. My kids are sick.
  6. I have no opinion.
  7. I got lost — don’t know where the Opera House is.
  8. The Council will get it right without my help.
  9. I tried to attend, but couldn’t find a parking space in Hastings at 7pm.
  10. Council doesn’t pay any attention to this kind of input anyway.
  11. Rejuvenating Hastings is an oxymoron.
  12. I’m avoiding crowds so I don’t catch bird flu.
  13. I was in the cellar watching my wine age.
  14. The meeting conflicted with my favourite TV show.
  15. If I pretend it’s not happening, maybe it won’t.
  16. I’m in mourning for my deceased prize bull.
  17. Let the nutters deal with it.
  18. I heard no alcohol would be served.
  19. Obscenity.
  20. We did all this once before … and look where that got us.

Do these reasons pretty much cover it?

Seriously … help me understand. Why are so many people so prepared to whinge about their local government and its direction, but so unprepared to try and make a difference?

Tom Belford

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6 Comments

  1. I don't listen to local radio, I see no purpose in buying the HB Today – it's a total waste of time, and while I sometimes visit the HDC website, it's not exactly a daily thing. If I had known about the meeting, I would have attended. Surely the lack of attendance at so many of these HDC meetings is partially due to lack of knowledge that there even is a meeting. Why doesn't the HDC send emails as one form of advertising? Whose job is it to engage with the local population – that means actually getting to them. People for the most part have no idea how much local government effects their daily lives, and that needs to be addressed by local government. How many people did they actually want to attend? Are they more comfortable when only a few show up? People whinge about their local government because they can.

  2. HDC want to throw $300,000 towards "Customer Relations Software". But their current customer relations department (or whichever firm they may pay to do it) can only attract two dozen regular “customers” to a public workshop. Anyone else sense another waste of ratepayer’s money coming up?

  3. Maybe those who whinge about the lack of participation have simply got their assumptions wrong. Some people (a minority, I dare say) enjoy the cut and thrust of politics. They actually get pleasure from attending gatherings and studying reports. Are they serving the community or simply meeting their own needs? Perhaps they aspire to office further down the track.

    Fair enough, but maybe not everyone feels that way. Maybe not everyone is comfortable with the format and style of the decision-making process. Maybe the problem isn’t people who don’t come to meetings, but a system that doesn’t come to the people.

    With cell phone texting and social networking sites, the media have become the message for increasing numbers of young people in particular. In the meantime a diminishing crowd of old boys sits around in their clubhouse and wonders why no-one shows up anymore.

    You can cling to granddad’s way of doing things and blame the constituents for being lazy buggers, or you can consider the possibility that maybe the failure lies in the process itself.

    p.s.: If you want to see motivation, just propose something that really pisses people off and watch them turn out at the barricades. It's just a matter of threshold.

  4. Love your reasons Tom. For quite a few of us at the meeting last night (7th September – in the Shakespeare Room, not the Assembly Hall – the Council got lost getting there) the reason would be that we have submitted and submitted in reasoned tones on many of the issues covered last night and the Council has not listened. Nelson Park is the worst case of good advice ignored. Percival Rd Sporks Park a close second.

    Sometimes we win but it is rare.

  5. Yep – you got it Tom! No 1, 3 , 10 and 20 are the most relevant points. No 10 is the feeling I have often. Most people I know do not bother with either newspaper or radio – too much trivia. They are too busy out in the community being actively involved in sport and organisations. No 17 fits into this one. For most , council matters are a shrug and a "what can I do about it" attitude which says a lot about the engagement of councils with community – no 20. 7 and 9 are points that came up through the day. Not an easy place for out of towners to find and parking is abysmal in Hastings. However the workshops during the dauy were excellent. People with knowledge and understanding of the big issues presented their ideas clearly and suggested many sensible directions forward. Let's hope they will be listened to!

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